College miscellanea

Autumn always takes me back to my glorious college days at the hallowed halls of the venerable University of Kansas. The blazing fall colors, the snap in the air, the smell of cheap beer…so in that spirit, we’re going to tackle two things that confuse writers on a consistent basis: the various forms of the Latin alumni and the correct punctuation and grammar of college degrees. Continue reading

Facts…or opinions?

"AAAAAAAGGGH!!! There's only one U in 'curiosity'!"

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiousity has its own reason for existing.” – Albert Einstein

A teacher at a local elementary school writes inspirational quotes on a whiteboard outside her room. Cool, huh? Yeah, only did any of you catch the handwritingo? (Can’t say typo since it was not typed.)

Now, this sort of thing irritates old Conan like a Kenny G sax solo. When I see errors like this, I turn into Mr. Furious from Mystery Men — filled with impotent and useless rage. But then I have to remind myself that everyone, including Conan, makes mistakes. That being said, a very wise man once wrote that teachers, like it or not, are held to a higher standard than the rest of us schmos. Which means they need to check and double-check their facts and their spelling. (I rubbed out the “u” on the whiteboard, in case you were wondering.) Continue reading

When Sports Writing Goes Very, Very Wrong

This isn't Mark Spitz.

I was surfing America Online the other day when I came across the tantalizing headline Worst Sports Comebacks. I’m a sucker for this kind of thing, so I clicked on the link — and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but this gem of an entry:

12) Mark Spitz: Twenty years after winning seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics and spurned on by a million-dollar offer from filmmaker Bud Greenspan, the swimmer seeked to qualify for the 1992 U.S. team. Greenspan filmed Spitz failing to qualify for a return to the Olympics.

Okay, I can almost forgive the spurn/spur confusion. It falls in the same category as the flaunt/flout controversy (which I intend to explore in a future issue of Fun with Conan The Grammarian). But…seeked? I mean, seeked? Where, oh, where was the editor? And where, oh, where was the dictionary?

Most of the time, I mind my own business, laugh and move on. But this time I was spurred to action. I sent a helpful email to AOL Sports pointing out the mistakes. You’ll be thrilled (and amazed) to know I wasn’t in the least sarcastic or snarky about it. And now, four days later (as of this writing), the errors remain. The only thing I can figure is that AOL Sports has either sent their writing jobs off-shore or subcontracted to Wee Cutie-Pies Preschool.

Moral: Employ an editor. Use a dictionary. End of lecture.

Opening Paragraphs

Literary agent Nathan Bransford is running a contest on his blog for the best first paragraph of a story, and it’s worth a look, if not a submission. In the comments section you can read literally thousands of first paragraphs. Read them carefully. How many of them make you want to read the next page, let alone the next paragraph? Pay close attention to why you do or don’t want to read on, because it holds the key to writing a compelling first parapraph.

Unfortunately, many of us think of our manuscript as our child. It was wrought by God Himself, in His image, and to change it would be sacrilege. Just remember, though, that in your manuscript’s universe, you are the god, and you do have the power to improve it. And often, you should. To help you make the leap, read this awesome blog post from Writer Unboxed about compelling opening pages. It just might change your life–or at least the readability of your manuscript.


Alot, A Lot, Allot

What’s wrong with the book title below, featured on‘s UK site?

You Have to Kiss Alot of Frogs*
by Laurie Graff (Author)

You spotted it right away, didn’t you? What? You didn’t? This is a total gimme! Continue reading

Even Proofreaders Need Proofreaders

A new client came the publicist’s way, one that promised to be lucrative. In her excitement, the publicist dashed off an incisive, newsworthy press release and threw it in the mail post-haste.

Before the publicist had a chance to follow up with the media, the client called and left a message on her voice mail. He’d received his copy of the news release in the mail. He would no longer require her services, he said.

Because she’d misspelled his business’s name throughout the news release.

Oh, the shame! The horror! The lost income! Continue reading